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Double Your Money

Double Your MoneyJohn Coombes is overworked and underpaid. That's the conclusion of Fylde's Remuneration Panel following a report from one of the Council Unit Managers, so they plan to double his responsibility allowance from 3,000 to 6,000 a year. That's on top of the 3,000 a year he gets in basic allowance, and any travelling, subsistence and dependents' carer's allowance he is eligible to claim.

How Does it Work
The Government says that all Councillors should receive a basic allowance of 3,000 a year (around 57 per week) for being a Councillor. This is intended to cover the time they spend in meetings and with constituents, and for occasional use of their home for business purposes. They can, of course, elect not to claim this allowance.

In addition to this, the Council has the option to pay additional allowances called 'Special Responsibility Allowances' to certain councillors. For example to the leader of the Council, or to a Committee Chairman. 

Councils can also pay 'Dependants' Carers' Allowances' to all councillors who have to pay for childcare or other dependants whilst undertaking particular duties.

Finally, they can also pay Travelling and Subsistence Allowances to all councillors where they arrange their own transport, accommodation or meals etc in connection with official business.

To help them fix the sums paid, the Council appoint an independent panel to advise them. 

This year the panel received a report from one of the Council managers. It provided comparative data from the 'Improvement and Development Agency'  which showed that Fylde pays less than the average. As a result of receiving the report, the panel decided that most of the existing Special Responsibility Allowances should go up by inflation.

However, they thought that the changing role of John Coombes, the Leader of the Council was not being adequately recognised. 

His existing Special Responsibility Allowance is 3,000 per year, but to compensate him for the time he is required to spend on Council business, they thought he should get another 3,000 a year on top of his existing allowances, 

So the plan is to pay him a Basic Allowance of 3,000  and a Special Responsibility Allowance of 6,000 a year, which tots up to handy 9,000 a year, (around 173 per week). Plus of course any dependents' carers' and travelling and subsistence allowances that are appropriate.

They recognise that a 100% rise is quite a lot, so they plan to spread the increase over two years.

According to the Council's website, last year, (2004/05) before this latest planned increase, he was paid 8,955 (excluding mileage expenses).

Why Payment is Wrong
There will be many who say that these days, councillors should be paid for the time they spend on Council business.

There can be no objection to anyone drawing legitimate expenses for travelling and so on, but to be paid to be a Councillor is wrong.  Representing an electorate should be an honour, not a job or even a substitute for one.

The driving force for service to the community should be the respect of that community, coupled with the desire to work for that community without reward.

That is why earlier councillors were so highly regarded. They had made their mark in life, and thus had both the time and the experience, coupled with an altruistic desire, to give something back to the society that had treated them well.

Thus our councillors of old were respected and prominent people of independent means rather than political apparatchiks in thrall to a party, or in need of financial support.

The very act of payment transforms an independent person into one who is at least subconsciously beholden to the piper that is calling the tune. This effect increases as the amount paid moves closer toward being a "wage".

More especially, the payment of differing allowances to different 'classes' of Councillor is divisive. It creates division and aspiration within an organisation that should be motivated by the common good. It denies the truth that all who are elected should have an equal say, and it further politicises local government to the detriment of all.

Taken to its logical conclusion, the process of payment will remove the distinction between elected Council members and their staff. 

This is a very dangerous route to travel. Without the taming hand of Councillors, officers are driven by their technical and managerial professionalism - they tend to lack humanity.

On the other hand, Councillors without professional staff to advise and support them tend to be less well focused and thus less efficient.

Like the separation of the executive from the judiciary, the system needs the tension between councillors and officers to work properly.

Paying Councillors is therefore a bad idea in principle.

In practice.... well, last year it cost Fylde's taxpayers just over 203,500 (excluding the travelling expenses). That's a bit less than 3 on a Band D Council tax.

Although we have 51 Councillors, an Executive of nine make most of the actual decisions, so you can see where pressure is going to build in the future.

Dated:  10 October 2005


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